What is a Topliner? How to Get Started With Topline Songwriting

Toplining is a popular songwriting technique. It’s common practice especially in the world of pop, hip hop and electronic dance music.

But a topliner is slightly different from a traditional songwriter.

In topline songwriting, the creation of the melody and lyrics is based on beats. In fact, sometimes it’s based on fully fleshed out productions.

In this article I’ll explain everything you need to know about toplining, how it works and why you should consider it as a songwriter.

What is a topliner?

A topliner, or topline songwriter is an artist that provides a melody and lyrics for a producer’s beat or instrumental track. Toplining has become more common as the influence of electronic and sample-based genres has expanded in pop.

Here’s how it works.

Imagine an EDM producer reaches out to you with a demo track and asks you if you’d be interested in toplining it.

If you accept, you’ll write the vocal melody and lyrics on top of the music the producer has already composed.

In most cases, topliners record demo vocals for the projects they embark on. If you’re an artist, you might be asked to lend your vocals as a featured artist on the collaboration as well.

In most cases, topliners record demo vocals for the projects they embark on.

Why you should try toplining

For one thing, it’s a really productive way to combat writer’s block.

When you create a song out of thin air, the process often varies. Sometimes the stars line up and you end up writing a brilliant song in under an hour.

But more often than not, you’ll write a few decent lines and struggle for hours to piece them together.

Before I got into toplining, my songwriting strategies were limited. I would play with a few chord progressions. Maybe revisit some of the melodies I randomly thought of and recorded as voice memos. Look through some lines I scribbled down in my notebook.


Once I gave toplining a try, I realized that there are more ways to flex my songwriting muscles.

If you’re a songwriter who generally writes alone, you’ll notice moments where your ideas start to become repetitive or redundant.

Collaborating with others via toplining eliminates this issue.

Why?

Because as a topliner, you’ll make an effort to create melodies and phrases that fit on top of the beat.

You’ll work with constraints like a predetermined tempo, key, time signature, groove and set of chords. These constraints will help you write faster, since you won’t have to try to figure out multiple concepts at one go.

In other words, toplining helps you discover new realms as a songwriter.

Collaborate better

Here’s another advantage to consider. When you topline a demo, you can still write in private. You can record your draft when you’re done and hit send.

I’ve done several collaborations in this manner, and in most cases, even a single phone call wasn’t required.

Perhaps this will seem impersonal to some songwriters. But it’s a good alternative for musicians who are shy about collaborating with others in real time.

You might also enjoy toplining because it’s time efficient. Once you get used to it, you’ll be able to jot down your ideas quickly. It’s a great way to stay productive and active in your music community even when you’re extremely busy.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s another angle to consider. As a songwriter, in most co-write situations, you’ll be expected to topline in real time.

The music producer in the room will build the demo, as the songwriters discuss the lyrical theme and exchange melodic ideas.

In short, it’s a good idea to practice toplining on your own regardless of your artistic interests.

In short, it’s a good idea to practice toplining on your own regardless of your artistic interests.

Practicing toplining

With so many loop libraries and beat making tools, it’s easy to create simple arrangements to practice toplining.

Keep it simple. Try putting together an 8-bar-long beat with a few chords that can be looped indefinitely.

In a lot of cases, you’ll topline demos with repetitive chord progressions. Building a song structure out of repeating patterns is a skill you’ll get better and better at over time.


You can also search for toplining-ready instrumental beats online. The key is to pick simple arrangements with enough space to carry a lead melody.

It’s also not a bad idea to reach out to your music producer friends when you feel ready. They probably have discarded beats which you can transform into full songs.

Choosing the right projects

Some topliners choose to work with specific genres, others don’t. It really depends on what you want your catalogue to look like.

As a songwriter, it’s easier to keep your identity hidden from the public eye. As an artist, if you release a collaborative single, you’ll be expected to endorse and promote it publicly.

Of course, you can still topline as a songwriter only, even if you have an artist project. It’s all about determining your own rules and conditions from the get-go.

As a songwriter, it’s easier to keep your identity hidden from the public eye. As an artist, if you release a collaborative single, you’ll be expected to endorse and promote it publicly.

Expanding your skillset

If you’re excited to give this a shot, here’s something else you should keep in mind.

Most topliners who manage to make a name for themselves are those who can record and produce their vocals.

But here’s the good news: if you are willing to go the extra mile, you can turn your brand of toplining into a lucrative business.

Setting up a profile on an online marketplace like LANDR Network can open you up to new toplining opportunities.

On the other hand, if you’re a producer looking to hire a singer to topline your track LANDR Network is one of the best places to go to find the right talent.



Keeping an open mind

Urge yourself to remain open-minded as a topliner. The best part of toplining is that it’s full of surprises.

You never know what you’re going to get! You might receive demos that grab your attention and never let go when you least expect it.

The post What is a Topliner? How to Get Started With Topline Songwriting appeared first on LANDR Blog.